Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tale of a Man with No Teeth

A friend of mine once remarked that it is his opinion that the smartest people on the planet are the ones with crooked teeth. Ever since then I have made a note to check out not only a person's shoes but the alignment of their teeth. White, bright and straight for me almost becomes synonymous with a washed out character, particularly if one is looking at the dental evidence of talking heads on television or a local politician. The whole crooked perspective sort of goes along with the understanding, gained from another friend, that the most interesting bars in the world are the ones with no signs out front.

Ohioan caver, Larry C. Simpson is author of “The Lost Cave of the Jaguar Prophets”, a book that is a delightful read of a Yucatan mystery adventure. He is also a poet that knows about concrete. I am not sure if his teeth are crooked, or not, but I sure like this video from Cincinnati that he recently sent out:

His comments on this video are as follows:
“A little background. It was written in the 1980's. There was some centennial or something of Cincinnati, and they were going to pick a poet from each neighborhood and put out a book. It was going to be edited by some NY writer who wrote a biography of Marilyn Monroe. There were some big time movers & shakers involved. So I gave them a little history lesson on Reaganomics. I guess they weren't amused. I didn't get picked.

The Army surplus store is no longer there, and a storm knocked the steeple of the church through the building destroying it. (Different church in the video.) One building, the gray frame house, was torn down about a week after I shot it.

My musician friend, Gary Woster and I have been putting poems to music since the 70's so we did this one a few years ago. At first it was about a homeless guy walking around the neighborhood, then I put it in the bar for the music. For the video, I had to morph both. Now I think of the character as a ghost.”
I delight when art and politics meet head on.

For a fine example of a collaboration of poetry and music check out Iguana House Music and Poetry at JukeboxAlive. Larry is the poet/author and the voice here.

I really like the crow caws in The Glass Canoe. Words can be found here.

And if you are into caving, or curious, check out Pushing the Dark, twenty two miles of friendship and adventure underground.
"We would wait patiently while stories were told, about an outlaw who hid in a cave, a lost silver mine, confederate gold, bottomless pits, and a haunted cave that once expelled a fireball, all the while eager to get the locations and get underground, but also fascinated by the stories themselves. Mr. Barnes, who presided over this tobacco-spitting forum, told us about a big cave that led all the way to Buck Creek until Lake Cumberland flooded the exit. Before we left he gave us two onions in case we got hungry. Then he showed us something in a matchbox."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Garden Gnome Wars

Disclaimer: I never get all of the facts of a story straight in my head, I do not pretend to be a journalist, and as I grow older I care less about the facts and more about the reality of the fiction.

When a country enters into the European Union there are agreements made as to what they can proudly claim to produce as a national product.

France has claim on a specific type of fried potato (popular at McDonald's), Italy a type of wine (popular in the Bowery), Greece on goat cheese and wrestling, or, like Ohio is allowed to make Ludowicci roof tile, Texas gun owners and Vermont allowed to make hot Vermont maple syrup poured on white snow. All products that will increasingly be manufactured in China. So when Poland entered the EU there was suddenly a rivalry in the garden gnome industry between them and Germany.

Garden gnomes: those short little whimsical figures made of terra cotta or, in the USA usually of precast concrete, unpainted or painted in glorious reds and greens, smoking pipes or displaying pitchforks stuck out their bums, and with panoply of comic expressions, that one purchases and then lugs home to place in the garden, or yard as a sort of secular fertility guardian. They could as well be angels, or a virgin with a baby, or a unicorn. (Note: in the Long Island Hamptons they have gigantic horses, ironic pedestals and dinosaurs.)

Lest you think this is all meant in funny according to Wikipedia there are an estimated 25 million garden gnomes in Germany, the nation reported as origin of the first garden gnomes at Gräfenroda (my obligatory histo presto context).

The French have their Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes—le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin (FLNJ).

{In 1998 there was another strike that has been attributed to the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. This strike was known as the "mass suicide." In Briey, a small city in eastern France, citizens woke up to find 11 garden gnomes hanging from a bridge with nooses around their necks. A nearby note stated: "When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decorations."}

The Italians have the MALAG (Movimento Autonomo per la Liberazione delle Anime da Giardino). In the UK is the ISPCG (International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Gnomes). And in the Republic of California there is the conservative DEKGJ (Deportar al Estúpido Kitsch Gnomos de Jardín) that through some misunderstanding believes all of these alien figures in the American floral landscape originated from Ecuador.

If you drive from Berlin to Szczecin, as my friend did one day on his return to his homeland, when you approach the border there are garden gnome dealers lining the road. Hundreds and hundreds of garden gnomes arrayed to entice the enthusiasm of impulse buyers -- we assume impulsive gardeners. And when you drive into Poland there are even more dealers and more garden gnomes lined up. It is as if the industrial production resources of Poland have been arrayed to amass their symbolic troops in an economic battle, which, in fact, it is.

Just as a New Yorker will drive to Paramus, NJ to buy school clothes and designer knock-off shoes cheaper, Poland is undercutting the cost of garden gnomes and the Germans are ignoring their own garden gnomes to cross the border to purchase the less expensive, and we assume qualitatively equivalent, Polish garden gnomes.

We do not know who has won the battle or the war. Stay tuned for future reports from the front lines.

We will keep an eye out for you.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Remembrance of Trees

Tree Reader at elimae

When I was last in Poland we were visiting historic sites on our way to Chopin’s house. Across the road, a major truck route out of Warsaw (which in Poland is a two-lane road) -- across from one old wooden church was a large tree with a low iron rail fence around it. The fence was built with carved stones of granite at the corners. I asked what that was about and was told that it was revered, and considered an historic site, as an old tree. The tree was considered special for being old... it was down the road from the copse that we were casually told marked the first military use of nerve gas by the Nazis. I presume there may have been something more to the old tree reverence but the discussion was along the lines of, “Why are you looking at that? Here we have this old wooden church to look at.” My thought was, Wow, this is really kool, a tree marked off as special and nobody is even asking a dollar for us to look at it. [Hear about that trip to Poland that includes raven caws and dog barking. Radio Free Preservation v1 i1 April 2008]

In the Podlaskie region of Poland, on a previous visit, where there is an historic wooden architecture that is vernacular to the region, a comment was made as to the sacred nature of trees as a connecting link between the earth and the sky... and that thus when building a church or synagogue or mosque or barn or house of wood one needs to carry this sacred connection into the work. When you are there and you look around at the fields and the groves of trees it creates an epiphany in vision of the biota... the relatively thin layer of bio-mass that trees provide to our common earth. It is nice that there are a few humans who can perceive this sustainable connection in nature.

I am reminded that Thoreau's family made their fortune in pencils.

As a kid I had a friend who was something of a romantic in the classical Germanic sense of the term (at that time I was not particularly aware of my German roots). We were walking along from school one day on the sidewalk when suddenly he ran up to and hugged the trunk of an elm tree. He then excitedly confessed to me, the ever present confident, that he would rather hug a tree any day than hug a girl. I am all for hugging trees but I don’t see that as a higher calling in life than hugging people, women and men, children, that sort of friendly breaking through the barriers to grab hold of each other. At the time I was not too sure what to make of his confession. I see now that he is married with children and we can assume that a few trees here and there are safe from untoward assault. One of the primary reasons that extraterrestrials keep visiting and abducting humans is that they have lost the tactile consciousness of hugging each other. They know that they are missing something but you never hear of them abducting our trees and eviscerating them as with stray cattle in Wyoming. So much for intergalactic lumbering around.

Recently I was reading a book about Joan D’Arc. My interest stems from my having been told as a child that our family is descended from Joan D’Arc. Now, as this does seem implausible (about as implausible as my being convinced that I was present at the Last Supper at the moment of my earthly conception -- and we can argue over exactly when that occurred in the history of biological evolution, I mean, considering that everything is pre-designed) I must confess that I am fascinated by the unrealistic pieces of ancestral data that we carry around with us, sort of a psychic DNA. Information that intrigues me in odd ways such as that my maternal great-grandfather, the Iowan sheep farmer (he had trees on his land too, I have seen them), a bonifide descendant of Daniel Boone (who wrote flash fiction on the trunks of trees) raped the traveling school teacher in his barn (I think I was told that she had red red hair), thus a family was born and bred with the violence of an intellectual background... that is, one of them could read.

Regardless, back to Joan. I like to associate myself with a female religious warrior background (especially when playing WoW), it just seems so kool to me even if it is unlikely that I am sort-of related to Joan D'Arc but probably not really. So I was reading this book about her, supposedly written by one of her male childhood friends, that tells about a large resplendent tree on the hill outside of their French village, and since I can’t find the book in all the mess of books I am winging it here... and the humble village children would play at the tree and for hundreds and hundreds of years they would play there along with the faeries. Then one day a fairy did something rude... was seen spying out a naked grandmother through her kitchen window or whatever, and the local priest (Catholic) came along and banished the fairies from playing with the children. This all sounds so damnably contemporary when you think about it. But the impression I get is that the tree was made unhappy and that Joan D’Arc took the local priest to task to defend the fairies. I am proud of my brave ancestors even if they are not. I hope that the tree is still there, one of a few places that I would like to visit and maybe read a book, more on that later, and nowadays when people no longer believe in fairies it just may be the little magical buggers are free to dance around and party unmolested. It is France.

As a kid we had five acres of woods surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and farm fields. There were many trees, a few of them quite distinct. A very large basswood was one where I spent hours building forts -- basswoods are good for that. It gave me an early sense of the engineering of building, particularly on the day when all of the logs rolled out and Ronnie Harkness (he is Italian, sort of, and his sister had very red red hair), who was up in the tree on top of the logs that I was handing up (well, they were a bit rotted and fairly small in diameter) made a sudden move and everything came tumbling down.

Ronnie ended up on the bottom of the pile; I ended up on the top. Lessons learned, round elements roll off from sloped branches of basswood real easy and -- don’t stand too close to Ronnie when he is pissed.

We had another tree way off in the back corner, near to the wild strawberry patch, a tall white pine, taller than all of the other trees around. Most of the trees were maple and ash with a small dose of hickory and hawthorn, and ironwood and there was the area that had once been apple orchard.

Diversion, apples, green apples, small worm ridden hard little round apples, we would cut a stout switch of maple or ash or whatever was handy, sharpen one end and poke it into the apple. This created, at minimal cost to us or the environment, a neat toy and an amazing weapon. The principle was that if you swung the apple on the switch overhead that the apple would fly off at considerable speed toward whatever target you were aiming, though rarely if ever able to hit on target. It was fantastic! Unfortunately from about a hundred feet away I hit my younger brother directly in the eye.

That was enough of that, back to the white pine... so I was in a habit to climb up to the top of the white pine, an act that usually got my hands covered with pine pitch (so these days when I muck my hands with epoxy I feel childlike in my dirtiness and digits stuck together so that I need to manhandle a screwdriver to pull them apart -- just yesterday I remarked on how I purchase latex gloves but never remember to use them), and I would sit up there for hours, particularly on a nice sunny day, and watch the wind sway the top of the woods, and sway me with it. I like to be swayed.

There was a place along the local crick a ways down where people did not wander where a group of hemlocks grew. It was actually a small island where the crick divided to go around the root base of the trees. I love the aromatic smell and the branch movement, springy with grace, and the gentle leaves of Hemlock. I built a Dan Beard type of lean-to down there below the trees. That was where I would wander off to be alone to read Shakespeare.

There is something I believe very important about where one reads, and where one writes.

Where we live now, on Long Island, for our house and property we were particularly attracted to the diversity of trees, and bushes, and ocean, and weeds, and bugs, and birds and squirrels and deer and racoons... well, the racoons are not particularly good neighbors, especially when you have pet chickens... but you can get the gist of it.

We had a very tall and regal Hemlock at the corner of the house, within fifteen feet of where I sit now, but sadly it was taken out by wooly aphids. Diversity is grand!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Flocculate with Expansive Clay

I wish I had found this when I was ten years old. It would have helped a whole lot w/ my crik bed dam building projects.

Google books, "Clay Materials Used in Construction " edited by G.M. Reeves, I. Sims & J.C. Cripps

12.1.2. Bentonite

The name bentonite is popularly used for a range of natural clay minerals of the smectite group, principally potassium, calcium and sodium monnnorillonites derived from the weathering of feldspars. The name derives from the discovery of large deposits near Fort Benton in Wyoming. USA. Because of the chemistry and micro-structure of the clay particles they have a strong ability to absorb water and are able to hold up to ten times their dry volume by absorption of water. Montmorillonite (after Montmorillon, southwest of Paris) consists of very thin flat crystalline sheets of clay minerals which are negatively charged and are held together in 'stacks' by positively charged sodium or calcium ions in a layer of adsorbed water. In particular the soil particles comprising a stack of sheets of sodium montmorillonite form extremely small and thin platelets, being typically of the order of 1.0 pm or less in length and 0.001 um thick. The ability to absorb water comes from the relatively low bonding energy of the sheets, which allows water molecules to be adsorbed onto the internal and external sheet surfaces. Calcium ions provide a stronger bond than sodium, so that calcium mommorillonite swells less readily than sodium monnnorillonite. Potassium ions provide much stronger bonding between clay sheets as the potassium ion is of exactly the right diameter to fit between atoms in the sheet structure with negligible gap between the clay sheets. A similar material to mommorillonite but with potassium bonding is the non-swelling clay mineral known as illite. The substitution of sodium by calcium or potassium ions in monnnorillonite greatly reduces the ability of the clay structure to hold water.

The very small particle size of bentonite results in an extremely low hydraulic conductivity for intact clay, with a coefficient of permeability of typically less than 10-1" m/s. This allows the clay to be used to form 'impermeable' or 'waterproof layers and sustain high hydraulic gradients across thin layers with negligible water flow. The swelling property is also important in such applications, since should water permeate a layer of dry bentonite it will swell even against high pressures and tend to seal any crack or fault which might otherwise develop into a leakage path. The volumetric swelling of particles can be up to 13%. but that of an agglomeration of particles is somewhat less depending on their packing.

Many applications of bentonite involve the use of slurry. Mineral particles in a slurry generally carry electrical charges, the nature and intensity of which vary with the particle surface characteristics and the chemistry of the liquid phase. Polar water molecules may then be adsorbed on to the particle surface, forming a layer of 'bound' water surrounding each particle. The result of the two effects is to produce repulsive forces between par¬ticles, which are greater than attractive Van der Waal's forces except when the particles are very close together. The particles in a slurry therefore tend to keep apart from each other in a 'dispersed' condition (Fig. 12.1a). The effects are most noticeable with small particles (clay/silt rather than sand/gravel, and in practical terms only with finer clay particles) since the relative surface areas are much larger. and gravitational forces are much smaller. Under some conditions the plate-like particles of clay minerals may have different charges on the edges and faces of the particles, and are able to clump together in a 'flocculated' structure (Fig. 12.1b). The large flocs settle out of the slurry much more readily than the small individual particles.

Some slurries demonstrate the effect known as thixotropy, whereby they 'set' into a gel if left undisturbed, but revert to a viscous fluid (sol) when sheared. The alterna¬tion between sol and gel may take place any number of times. The phenomenon is well known in 'non-drip' paints. A gelled 'house-of-cards' type of structure with edge to face connections is illustrated in Figure 12.1c; gels of thin clay particles may contain only a few per cent of solid material. The gelled structure is also able to sup¬port larger soil particles and prevent them from settling out. Bentonite slurries are thixotropic and typically form a gel at concentrations of a few per cent by mass in water: this is an important property of bentonite slurries in many applications. For a more detailed discussion of the nature and properties of bentonite slurries see Jefferis (1992).

Bentonite clays occur, and are mined and processed commercially, in many pans of the world. Some natural deposits, notably those from Wyoming, have a high proportion of sodium. These tend to produce slurries with high viscosity but relatively low gel strength. The depos¬its mined in the UK, near Woburn, are mainly of the calcium form, and these are converted by ion exchange to the sodium form by ball-milling with sodium carbonate. These materials tend to be less dispersive and give lower viscosities for the same slurry density, but higher gel strengths. As natural products, bentonites vary widely around the world in quality and content of other minerals, even after commercial processing, and these 'variations must be taken account of in their specification and use.

Bentonite is available commercially in a variety of forms. but nearly always in a dry state, as powder (in bulk or bags. like cement), pellets or blocks. For applications in construction it will usually be hydrated, although in some waterproofing materials the hydration is allowed to occur in situ. For use as a slurry, the bentonite is mixed with water at a rate of a few per cent of solids by mass. The aim is normally to produce a slurry in which the bentonite particles are well dispersed and fully hydrated. For good mixing and rapid hydration, a high-shear colloidal mixer (shear rate >900/s) should be used, and the slurry then left to stand for some time while the clay particles hydrate. The quality of the slurry obtained depends on the hydrogen ion concentration (pH) of the water used in mixing; saline or acidic water or water containing impurities may cause the clay particles in the slurry to flocculate. This may initially cause the slurry to 'thicken', but there will then be a tendency for the flocculated particles to settle out of suspension and form a sludge. However there is not normally a practical problem with seawater coming into contact with a slurry, provided the slurry cannot mix freely with the seawater and has previously been fully hydrated with fresh water. Deliberate flocculation with flocculating agents may be used to help remove bentonite from suspension when the slurry is no longer required or has become too contaminated with cement, clay or silt. A combination of low hydraulic flow into the slurry (so long as hydraulic heads are low), and long diffusion times for salt compared with exposure times, usually causes few problems in the presence of seawater.

Bentonite is also used in combination with other materials, in particular other soil materials and Portland cement. At one extreme a small quantity of bentonite may be added to a concrete mix to produce highly plastic concrete able to undergo quite large deformations without cracking: while a small quantity of cement in a bentonite slurry can produce a hardening slurry with a small shear strength. Natural clay, silt and sand may be used as 'fillers' to produce cheaper material while keeping most of the benefits of the scaling ability and low permeability of the bentonite. Gleason et al. (1997) found that about 5% of sodium bentonite and 10-15% of calcium bentonite had to be added to fine sands to achieve a sand-bentonite mix with a permeability of less than 10-9m/s. Hardened bentonite-cement slurry mixes containing 180 kg/m3 of cement and 60 kg/m3 of bentonite had permeabilities of about 10-7m/s with calcium bentonite and 10-8m/s with sodium bentonite. These mixtures arc discussed further below in relation to various different applications. Small quantities of polymers and other chemical additives may also be used to enhance or modify the properties of bentonite slurries for particular applications. These are also discussed further below. [not below here, though, you gotta go read the book if you want more!]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What I am working on getting shorter and shorter...

frm Randall Brown in comment to a previous entry that I made to this blog -- “With your own writing, GO, how have you approached "short prose"? I'm curious about what you are currently working on to meet the demands imposed upon the writer of these short forms? Also, I've recently read some discussions about making Twitter's "character limit" add up to so much more than those 140 characters. Any thoughts about how that might be accomplished?”

I can give a long or short answer. I will try short and hope that it does not take too long to read.

I am not sure that I see short prose as being demanding any more or less than other forms, in general, possibly less demanding than say a good sonnet. A bad sonnet is not very demanding unless a reader considers bored doggerel a chore.

Demands are either external or internal. External being expectations of readers, critics, I suppose, the world-at-large, and internal being the demands the writer places on themselves.

Rowing a small boat is demanding on the rower, but if you do it regularly and often then it becomes a pleasure. So I would want to frame the question, How do we meet the pleasures of the short form?

So, as to working on, I am working on enjoyment in writing of the short form.

Other than that I spend a good deal of time looking around at what people are writing and what readers are reading. I could present my analysis of what I am reading, but here and now I will not.

Short prose, for me, is not new. My life, in construction, building a business, building community, networking at-large has been active and it has always been spattered with bursts of short prose as that is how it happens for me. My attention has always wandered and skipped about. I am happy that the world is catching up with what works for me, though as I have complained elsewhere everyone important in my life seems to be getting younger and younger.

I am intrigued by the interest in flash with a sort of humor one has of new people, curious strangers that show up in the side yard to pet an old dog.

There are so many young lions and fresh priestesses that it is all a dazzle to behold!

I recently ran across a quote from Cyril Connolly, it has been a long time since I have read his critical work, but it seems apt enough, “The true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and no other task is of any consequence.” Note that there is no indication here as to requirement of length.

As to Twitter, at one time I was told by a distraught reader that I should never write an e-mail longer than one page on the screen. So I wrote a serial novelette in weekly e-mails that went on, engaged with an active audience, for two plus years. Now we have Twitter, even shorter yet. I use it for glitter sprinkled in the hair or the bulbous red nose of a clown. Though I feel the best thing to do with Twitter is to point at other things.

Samuel R. Delany (I happened to meet and spend an hour talking with him one cold night in a bookstore, it was snowing, it was supposed to be a reading, but I was the only audience that showed – he has been teaching Creative Writing for 30+ years) in About Writing, his interview/essay Inside and Outside the Canon talks a whole lot about pointing at things. The more a thing is pointed at, let us say the more an author or a flash is pointed at the more likely it is that people will look at it. The more often it is looked at the more likely it will have an opportunity to be considered worthwhile.

Even if for no other reason it is worthless, trite, possibly drab, clumsy or stupid if enough people look at a thing it gains value for having been looked at. We are fortunate that eventually the collective forgets a whole bunch of stuff in fairly short order of appearance.

One can do same serializing w/ Twitter, but it needs to be kept exciting, lots of cliff hangers and plot twists... it needs to be fun. It also takes a bit of energy to consistently keep doing it and finding ways to make it work. I would tend to suggest that several writers could gather together as a collaborative and write line by line, hitting off of each other, trying to trip each other up, but there would need to be an overall structure of background rules for everyone to maintain their focus, and to make sure the story does not fall flat or meet a timely death.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Learn Flash in a Flash

Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, Tips from Editors, Teachers and Writers in the Field, edited by Tara L. Masih, published by The Rose Metal Press.

For me an early experience of learning to write stories, of any length, was reading Aristotle’s Poetics. What I mainly learned from that was that reading about how to write usually does more to ruin one’s writing than never reading about writing at all. That said, I own a whole slew of books about the process of writing, and when I am not writing I am often reading them. There is a way to read books about writing, a sort of offhand, “Yes, yes, I get what this says but I will do my best to forget it as quickly as possible.” This is not a book to be forgotten so easily.

This is a book for writers. That is, most readers who are not writers, and who may not have a specific interest in learning to write in the short prose form, would not find this collection of brief essays (most of them brief, as can be expected from writers who are used to cutting their word count to the bone) interesting other than from an historic perspective. By that I mean, this collection may have greater value to the general reader years from now than it does today, particularly after it has made it through a decade of classroom use, as it should. For a writer, however, particularly one who is writing short prose, this is an invaluable resource right now.

As the title suggests, this is a collection of essays, comments, from people who have some sort of international experience with the activity of creation and propagation/distribution of short prose. I know of or have read other work by most of the essayists contained here, and with a few of them I correspond. The ones I do not know, I will seek out, because they all are interesting, experienced, and at the top of their game. If as a writer you want to know what is going on in short prose - I am avoiding use of the word “flash” for no particular reason - then this is the essential guide.

Apparently each contributor was asked to write a brief essay to provide an example, and to suggest an exercise. There is material here to explore for several months of scribbling; for a writer looking for inspiration from which to step forward to write, the exercises should be a good resource. Over time it should be interesting to trace the influence of this book on short prose writing. I believe it will introduce new themes and fuel the current Internet trend toward short “bits” of attention-deficit feeding prose, and also, of course, help us see where the authors featured in this collection are going with their own work.

The caveat, my detraction, goes back to my initial encounter with Aristotle. Although I believe the material in this book is essential, I also find it to be confining, not for any fault of the editor, who has performed an admirable task, but exactly because of the way the approach to short prose of each essayist is revealed. It can be confusing to find so many divergent opinions and viewpoints all together in one swarm. Nevertheless, I suddenly find that I have a better idea of what I did not previously understand. I do not know how long it will take for me to adjust... like finding out that driving your foot on the brake, as you have done for twenty years, is not the optimal method.

My advice for the writer who is learning to write in short prose is to get into the book, sink deep, follow the examples and exercises, explore as many comments and threads to their infinite conclusion... and then walk away and forget all of it, or at least most of it. By then it should be about June of 2015.

Copies may be ordered directly from the publisher at The Rose Metal Press